The Message Sent in The Lottery
The shock value of Shirley Jacksons The Lottery is not only widely known, but also widely felt. Her writing style effectively allows the reader to pass a judgment on themselves and the society in which they live. In The Lottery Jackson is making a comparison to human nature. It is prominent in all human civilizations to take a chance as a source of entertainment and as this chance is taken, something is both won and lost.
As long as human civilization has existed, so has the idea of death or suffering, or taking a chance of death or suffering, as a form of entertainment. This can be traced back as far the day of the Roman gladiator, when an event was staged in a coliseum where people watched someone lose their life as a form of entertainment. Also, executions, once public, provide entertainment as they cause an inescapable excitement as an escape from the normal routine of daily life. This form of entertainment is displayed in The Lottery as the character Tessie Hutchinson is stoned in public because she won the towns annual lottery and as the character Old Man Warner claims in the story, Theres always been a lottery (Jackson 275). People also take a chance of harming themselves for entertainment in event of drug usage or extreme sports. The townspeople harm themselves in The Lottery by harming another person. However, this form of entertainment can also take another form – scapegoating. The term scapegoating is the act of persecuting or segregating a similar group of people whom are different from the norm or what is commonly accepted. This has happened with many groups of minorities in the United States such as Jewish people, women, African Americans, and Asians. It even happens in present day America with groups such as homosexuals and now, after the tragedy in New York, with people from the Middle East. These examples make it hard to determine whether or not scapegoating is just part of human nature or if it is something created by man made ideas.
The main reason that people take chances and are entertained by chances is because something is won or gathered by these chances. The people in The Lottery gain many things in this story by killing a member of their town each year. First of all, they gain the comfort of tradition while at the same time break the normal routine of their daily lives. The towns lottery gives them something to look forward to much like the towns square dances, teen-age club, and Halloween program which are all conducted by the same member of the town, Mr. Summers (Jackson 272). Mr. Summers also conducts the annual lottery. Something else that is gained by the people of the town is the idea of knowing that the loss of life was a sacrifice for the good of all. As Old Man Warner states in the story, Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon (Jackson 275). This indicates that the town feels that the death of Tessie Hutchinson is a sacrifice to a higher power for fertility of the land and good crops. A final thing that the town gains from the lottery is feelings of self worth through taking out the aggression of ones own faults and sins on someone else. This is displayed in the story as the children have small stones for their small sins and the adults have large stones that represent their large or more severe sins (Jackson 277-278).
Not only is something gained by the lottery and this form of entertainment, but something is lost as well. The Hutchinson family loses a loved one: a mother and wife. The town is also at loss with her death. After she is dead, she can no longer contribute to the town for economical or cultural reasons. There is also a loss of innocence with the lottery because the young boys and other children of the town participate in the act of killing someone as it is described that the children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles (Jackson 278). These pebbles eventually led to the death of his mother. Another loss that the town must face is their lack of productivity at the time of the lottery. The entire town takes time off of their normal day to participate in the lottery; therefore, the constructive things that they could be doing at the time are put off for another time or not done to their full potential. The final and most important loss and one of the most devastating losses that the town faces is loss of human dignity. It is not morally right to murder someone.
As displayed in the short story The Lottery, it seems that it a necessity for human beings to have to break away from their normal routine of life to be entertained. Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of entertainment involves suppressing another human being by forcing them to take a chance with their own life. Jackson even goes as far as to entertain the reader with this form of entertainment. She makes an understatement in the detail of Tessie Hutchinsons death so it can take place in the mind of the reader, maybe this is why the story is so effective in portraying its message. It is hard to think that this could possibly happen in an age that everything seems wrong but, as Jackson portrays this message, it is easy to discover that humans will always kill for fun.
Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie G.
Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 4th ed. Ft. Worth: Harcourt, 2000. 271-278.